Water Permit Settlement Reached on Proposed Coal Plant

Changes to the Permit will better protect the Oconee River if Plant Washington is built

ATLANTA - State and local environmental organizations have reached an agreement that will provide habitat protection for fish in the Oconee River near Plant Washington, a proposed 850 MW coal-fired power plant in Washington County near Sandersville, Georgia. The Altamaha Riverkeeper, the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE) and the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center and GreenLaw, settled their challenge of the water discharge permit for the proposed plant.


As initially issued, the water permit contained no limit on the temperature of the plant’s discharge into the river. Raising temperatures artificially and suddenly can harm fish which are acclimated to the normal water temperature in which they live. The revised permit will limit the thermal impacts to 90 degrees or 5 degrees above ambient river temperature and it will require comprehensive monitoring of the plant’s discharge.

“This settlement will ensure the most stringent limits on thermal discharge for any coal plant in Georgia and bring the permit up to the standards required by the Clean Water Act,” said Brian Gist of SELC. The terms of the settlement would increase the stringency of monitoring in two important respects. First, the plant’s developer, Power4Georgians, will be required to monitor the river temperature on the day following any instance in which the ambient temperature exceeds certain triggering temperatures (88 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit). Second, Power4Georgians is now required to install a data recorder which will document river temperature continuously at the edge of the mixing zone. If this recorder measures water temperatures above the state water quality standard, Power4Georgians will be required to install a continuous monitoring device at the edge of the mixing zone that will collect data for permit compliance purposes.

“The Oconee River area is already under severe or extreme drought conditions that affect the temperature and quantity of the water. The proposed plant will be allowed to draw 16 million gallons per day from the river. This permit finally gives the Oconee River, and those who depend on it, the protection the law requires,” stated Katherine Helms Cummings of FACE.

“We continue to believe this plant presents an unnecessary risk to both local residents and the ratepayers of the member electrical co-ops,” said Colleen Kiernan, Director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “However, these improvements to the discharge permit will help reduce the plant’s impacts on the Oconee River.”

While this settlement concludes the challenges to the water permits (for discharge and withdrawal) for the plant, the air pollution permit has not yet been re-issued. In December 2010, Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker remanded the air permit for Plant Washington to the Environmental Protection Division for revision. A new permit is expected later this summer.

“We are all working hard to make sure that any air pollution permit that the EPD issues for a new coal-fired power plant in Georgia meets all applicable air quality laws and that pollution will be controlled to protect the public health as much as possible,” said Hutton Brown, Senior Attorney for GreenLaw.

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The Altamaha Riverkeeper is working to protect and restore the habitat, water quality, and flow of the mighty Altamaha from its headwaters in the Oconee, Ocmulgee, and Ohoopee Rivers to its terminus at the Atlantic Coast. www.altamahariverkeeper.org

Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE) brings together citizens and community to protect and preserve our air, water and land from pollution so that we may live and grow in the beautiful hills and farmland of Georgia. www.facenvironment.org.

GreenLaw is dedicated to preventing air and water pollution that endangers human health and degrades Georgia’s natural resources. GreenLaw achieves these goals by providing free high quality legal and technical assistance to environmental organizations and community groups throughout Georgia. www.greenlaw.org. TWITTER: @GreenLaw_GA.

Sierra Club, the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States, has over 20,000 members and supporters in the state of Georgia. georgia.sierraclub.org TWITTER: @gasierraclub.

Southern Environmental Law Center is the only regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of 40 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
TWITTER: @selc_org